If you've ever done a Whole30, then perhaps you are familiar with the name, Melissa Hartwig, co-creator of the program and author of many corresponding books and cookbooks. You might also know that she has a history of substance abuse and addiction, and began to find freedom from her past through the healing power of food and exercise. I mention her name because I once heard her on a podcast (no idea which one - maybe her own?) in which she talked about feeling judged. Like when people start making accusations or use words against us that sound "high and mighty," or like harsh disapproval, and how that experience irritates us and immediately puts us on the defensive - trying to protect our character and our dignity.
She used an analogy in that podcast that I loved enough to remember and apply often. She said to imagine that person or those people handing you a heavy backpack stuffed with whatever judgments you read or heard coming out of their mouths. Your job is to take the backpack, unzip it, and empty its contents on the ground before you so you can closely inspect and honestly reflect upon each uncomfortable word. Anything that is inaccurate or unkind can be returned without further explanation to the empty bag. Give it back - you don't own that stuff. But anything that rings true and hits home...those things you must pick up, wrestle with, and address in a safe, supportive place. Those things you own. Those things you deal with...even if it's heavy. Even if it's hard.
With that in mind, read on.
Drunkenness is clearly defined as a sin from a Biblical standpoint. We are commanded in Ephesians 5:18, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery." But what about drinking alcohol in general? Is there a measure of consumption that is tolerated and acceptable, maybe even encouraged, or is there a flat-out denunciation of the behavior all together? Is it fair for modern-day followers of Christ to make comparisons to Biblical times, when it was a common practice? Jesus drank wine, after all. Ah, but was it fermented?
These are some worthwhile questions, but they are not the ones I want to address here. I have to remind myself that this is primarily a health and wellness blog, and I have an audience with various backgrounds. But because I view everything in my life through a lens of Christian faith, I think it's helpful to have some additional information, so the rest of what I share is understood in context. I think much of it will apply to everyone, regardless of your spiritual beliefs.
I've grown up in the church and have many pastors in my extended family, but I myself am not what I'd call a Biblical scholar (not yet, anyway!), and I typically do not engage much with matters of theology. Rather than dive deep into the weeds trying to grapple with church doctrine, I'd rather offer an opportunity for straightforward honest reflection, so that we might come to our own conclusions about our own personal health, and the influence alcohol might be having on it. At the end of the day, having considered the things listed below, I want YOU to be good... assured... secure... with your own stance on alcohol use. It really doesn't matter what I think!
Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the questions to ask yourself if you drink alcohol:
#1 - When and why did I start drinking in the first place? Is this a behavior that was modeled for me by parents and other trusted adults, or was it strictly forbidden in my home? If I engaged in underage drinking, was it done secretly in secluded places, or in my own basement with my parent's approval and supervision? How did the behavior make me feel then? How does it make me feel now?
#2 - What need is alcohol meeting in my life? What value does it add? Is it a stress reliever, a social lubricant, a coping mechanism, an escape, a sleep aid, an evening ritual, a simple pleasure, a version of self-care? List as many reasons as apply, and maybe even rank them in order from most-to-least weighty in application. Ask, Am I okay with these reasons? Would I feel the need to justify this list if someone were to question me about the frequency, style, and volume of my drinking? Is alcohol making life better or worse for me, and those around me?
#3 - What would happen if I didn't have access to any alcohol for 30 days or more? Maybe it would be no big deal - barely a blip on the screen. Maybe it would be a minor frustration - a crimp in my style. Maybe it would be an experience more debilitating than I expected. This is certainly a simple experiment worth conducting, n = 1. Consider if there is a history of substance abuse or addictive tendencies in your family. (I don't know of a single family with a clean slate in this regard, by the way). Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 3 Christian women who have confided in me recently that their own drinking behaviors worry them. The word "addiction" is never mentioned, but it's hanging heavy in the air nonetheless. Others have committed to a Whole30 or RESTART-type experience, minus the removal of alcohol. They have no problem with the elimination of junk food and sugar, but they "just can't give up alcohol" for even a few weeks. Their reasons vary. There are a handful of others whose recreational drinking I watch with concern from afar. I don't really know any details, and have no concrete evidence, but I still hold my breath, kind of like waiting for a train wreck to happen. When did drinking wine in particular become such a standard activity in so many women's lives? In so many Christian women's lives?
#4 - What message am I sending to my tribe (and most importantly to my children) about my relationship with alcohol? When I post "weekend vibe" selfies from my lounge chair beside the pool, from my beautiful beach vacation, from Girls' Day Out, from the couch in my darkened family room - all snuggled under a blanket with a fabulous book in my lap and crackling wood in the fireplace... is it necessary or important to me that others see the wine glass or beer can in my hand? Or is it such a natural part of my life that I don't even think about it being included in the picture? (Either way, do you see how this could be problematic?) Do I joke with friends and post on social media any alcohol-related memes or comments resembling these?
Mommy needs more wine!
It's 5 o'clock somewhere!
Let the weekend begin, lol!
THIS is living!
Mom Life after 8pm!
Send more Mommy Juice!
Do my children see me skipping meals or skimping on sleep, substituting alcohol and strong coffee instead? When it comes to groceries, do I value alcohol above meat, vegetables, and fruit...raging about the cost of eggs and grass-fed beef, but not missing a beat to grab a few more 6 packs or bottles of wine? Do I get irritated when my alcohol ritual is interrupted? Am I ever drinking alone? Do I prefer to drink alone? Are my young adult children anxious for the day when they can drink legally? Will they handle this potentially harmful and destructive behavior better than, the same, or worse than me?
#5 - When is the last time I've had blood work done to assess the health and function of my liver, pancreas, and kidneys? Do I fully understand that alcohol is a known toxin? Do I understand that conventional grapes are heavily sprayed with an assortment of pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides...and that those chemicals don't just disappear when grapes become wine? Does it make me nervous to think the doctor might see some kind of evidence in my labs of my regular social drinking behaviors? Could drinking be partly to blame for other symptoms I'm experiencing - like digestive distress, unwanted weight gain, hormonal imbalance, mood swings, infertility, hypertension, sleep deprivation, depression or anxiety? Given my current health status and personal goals, does it make any sense to be drinking alcohol? Is this the right time to crack jokes, deflect the questions, and assert my rights, or do I need to get serious about my habit? (Please don't quote the "science" touting the health benefits of wine, by the way. If you want the antioxidants, just eat some organic grapes.)
#6 - What does God think about the way I use alcohol? If I leaned in and really listened, would there be anything new or different He would have to say to me on this issue? Am I living in a way that is set apart, different, and holy (not to be confused with "holier-than-thou"), or do I look a lot like everybody else? Does it even matter? Do I care?
Maybe this list of questions will help generate even more to ponder. Of course not everyone who drinks alcohol has an addiction, but I'm quite certain many people aren't even aware of the problem they (or their children) are slowly developing. If you think of something not mentioned here, or have more to add to the discussion, I'd love to hear about it in the comment section. Or you can send me a private message. In the meantime, I'll conclude with this, a version of a narrative I'm borrowing from a friend:
I've never known anyone whose life was falling apart, who was suffering the tragic loss of a spouse, child, or job, the burden of financial ruin, the hopelessness of poor health, or rejection from family who said, "...And then I started drinking alcohol, and everything got better!" I have, however, heard the exact opposite story, and so have you.